We left Ottawa at 9 p.m. Friday for Toronto. After a short layover, we left at 1:30 a.m. for a 14-hour flight to Incheon, South Korea. We ate up most of the eight hour-layover there at the airport hotel until our connecting flight to UB.
Our plane touched down in UB around 2:30 p.m. local time Sunday. Cassandra from the U.S. Peace Corp, who is providing support to Mongolian credit unions, and Amarjargal Bergzsuren from MCTCIC, the host organization, greeted us at the airport.
The airport is surrounded by low-lying mountains off in the distance. The word arid comes to mind, not from experience (I don’t think I’ve ever been in an “arid” part of the world before), but from imagination (think Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.) The road into town must contain more potholes than the entire city of Toronto. Furthermore, I’m willing to bet that the width and depth of these potholes will fill anything that’s ever dented a rim in all of Toronto. The road is absolutely treacherous.
Making things worse is the fact that there appears to be an equal mix of right-hand and left-hand drive cars. Regardless which seat these drivers occupy, no one, and I do mean no one, pays attention to such petty things as stop signs or red lights or pedestrians, even seniors and tykes pitter-pattering across the road. My Lonely Planet guide says crossing the street is about the most dangerous thing that you can do in Ulaanbaatar. I totally believe it now. If it’s enough to give me a heart attack, and I’ve been to Canada’s jaywalking capital – Montreal – on numerous occasions, I can’t imagine what it will do to some of our prairie friends, many of whom were scared step onto the road in Ottawa.
The final note from today is we’ve had our first rip-off story. Several of us purchased 1.5 litres of “pure ground water of Bogd Khan mountain formed 800 thousand years ago” for 600 Tugs, which is the local currency that is equivalent to about 50 cents Canadian. One unlucky individual whom we will not name paid 5,000 Tugs for it at a souvenir shop. Sorry Marty*. Stick with us next time we go shopping. Your money will last longer.
*The names of the people who appear in this story have been changed to protect their identities. Where appropriate, we’ve used hockey names instead of their real names.